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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Institut für Musik­wissen­schaft und Medien­wissen­schaft | Medienwissenschaft |  ↳ Medientheorien | Kolloquium | Katherine Groo: At the Gates of Hell: Indexical Pasts, Black Hole Futures (Vortrag)

Katherine Groo: At the Gates of Hell: Indexical Pasts, Black Hole Futures (Vortrag)

  • Wann 01.12.2021 von 18:00 bis 20:00 (Europe/Berlin / UTC100)
  • Wo Medientheater, Raum 0.01, Georgenstraße 47, 10117 Berlin
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In April 2019, astronomers working with the Event Horizon Telescope shared an image of a blurry loop of oranges and yellows with black at its center and around the sides. It was described by scientists as the first image of a black hole or black hole “shadow” that the world had ever seen. The word “photograph” was frequently used to describe the image and many scientists referred to the process as “taking a picture.” Upon its release, the image traveled widely and swiftly. It was retweeted, remixed, and memed, an instantaneous icon of the complexities of contemporary visual technologies, the limits of human understanding, and the rhythms of contemporary social media.

But what, exactly, were we looking at? The image of the Messier black hole had been generated with data from more than two-hundred participating scientists and an array of eight ground-based radio telescopes linked across six global locations through a process known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). Data for the project was collected in 2017 and it took scientists two years to render the image. As for the image itself, it is a visual representation of non-visual data (i.e., the visualization of radio waves). More puzzlingly, it is an image of a non-reproducible, non-visual phenomenon. Black holes emit too little radiation to be visually perceived. They are fundamentally unphotographable and unavailable to human vision. What we actually see in the image—the luminous circle—is a representation of the event horizon, that is, the boundary of electromagnetic radiation encircling the black hole.

In this paper, I consider some of the challenges that the Messier black hole image poses to our conception categories of visual reproduction. As I will argue, the image substantively overlaps with key concepts and ways of thinking about contemporary computational images. It is operational, technical, and fundamentally speculative. And yet, for all of the ways that it departs from the terms of twentieth-century visual reproduction, the Messier black hole image nevertheless returns us to the artifactual and affective expressions of analog photography and film. It also demands that we reconsider the epistemological and metaphysical claims embedded in so much thinking about analog reproduction. The claim that the black hole image is a photograph is meant to stipulate something about photography, reality, and the relationship between the two. If the black hole image is a photograph, then the Messier black hole exists. The black hole is out “there,” or was there, somewhere in another galaxy. In this paper, I take seriously the insistent suggestion, from scientists, art historians, and popular culture, that this image is a photograph, but I also want to want to put some pressure on what we have meant for so long when we use that term (and whether we ought to really mean what we say).

 

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